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Neuromancer: an unofficial review

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  • Neuromancer: an unofficial review

    Widgets Magazine
    by William Gibson

    Between Man and Machine lies God

    What They Say:
    The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace . . .

    Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

    Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century's most potent visions of the future.
    The Premise:
    Once Case had flown

    The future is now. Orbital colonies are the hottest vacation destination, while megacorps build massive arcologies all over the world. Neural implants permit even the average office worker to directly experience cyberspace, while cloning and cybernetic replacements allow the blind to see and the lame to walk. . . for those who can afford such miracles, of course.

    Meanwhile, in the shadows of those gleaming cities, a whole society of criminals, outlaws and mercenaries flourishes. . . .

    And Case had been one of the best. A "console jockey", one of the underworld's elite hackers, there wasn't a computer network on Earth that he couldn't break into, a system he couldn't subvert. And people paid handsomely for his services. Steal the files of a crime boss, wreck the system of a rival megacop . . . When you wanted the best of the best, you turned to Case.

    Until the day when he stole from the wrong people. . .

    People who tracked him down, and introduced him to a charming Russian bioweapon. A lovely little neurotoxin that burned his implants out neuron by neuron, exiling him from cyberspace forever.

    Crippled by his loss, Case turned drug dealer and con man, running the loosest, fastest deals in Chiba. And everyone knew it was only a matter of time. Either his drug use, or an irate client, or an ambitious rival . . . Case was a dead man walking.

    But now Case has a second chance.

    The mysterious Armitage wants him to pull a job. Wants him badly. Badly enough to pay for an experimental procedure to repair his neural implants. Badly enough to hire an elite combat cyborg just to babysit him through his recovery. Badly enough to get him the latest experimental military-grade hardware and software out there . . .

    And he's going to need it.

    Because this won't be a cake walk. Armitage has the hacker's holy grail in his sights, a run against the AI known as Neuromancer . . . A feat that will involve pissing off two of the most ruthless megacorps on the planet, violating a dozen international treaties, and putting them on the wrong side of Interpol. Plus, there's the slight problem that no one has ever hacked an AI and survived . . .

    Coupled with the mounting evidence that something is really wrong with Armitage, and hints that he may just be a proxy for a third party, Case should've said no, and just walked away.

    But he didn't.

    Because he wanted to fly again.

    The Review: There's some dispute over who, exactly, should get credit for creating the cyberpunk genre. Movie adaptations of Philip K. Dick's work, such as Blade Runner, are often cited as forerunners of the genre, for example. But there's no denying that Neuromancer has a claim on the title. From its "street samurai" cyborgs, to hackers surfing the internet through brain jacks, along with gleaming megacities full of corrupt megacorps who "fix" problems with mercenary outlaws . . . If William Gibson didn't invent the genre, he certainly pioneered many of its conventions

    And he really brings it to life. Neuromancer really excels in both character development and establishing the setting, making it feel like a valid possible future. From the dead static grey of Chiba's skies, to the urban chaos of the Sprawl (formerly known as the East Coast of the United States), and even the Rastafarian flair of the orbital colony . . . every location feels real, distinct, and with an appropriate sci-fi twist. The badly mummified horse in Istanbul, for example.

    All of that detail extends to the characters that actually live there. From the impeccable manners of the "black" doctors of Japan, to the drug-addled college kids of the orbital colonies, each locale is full of colorful characters with that edge of sci-fi and film noir now known as "cyberpunk". And that's just the secondary and tertiary characters - major character like Case and Armitage have well-thought out motivations, backgrounds, and character quirks.

    And of course, no discussion of Neuromancer is complete without mentioning Molly. Looking for strong female characters who are important to the plot? Look no further. The "Steppin' Razor of Babylon" herself, the infamous Molly Millions is the iconic character of the novel. And justifiably so. From her cybernetic sunglasses to her painted-on leather pants, Molly's spawned a legion of imitators. Holding to her own ethical code, she's also the closest thing the novel has to a traditional hero character.

    Unfortunately, Neuromancer's action scenes don't fare as well. In fact, they're practically non-existent. The narrative follows Case, and he's pretty much the stereotypical scrawny computer geek. Coupled with the fact that he's still recovering from prolonged (and severe) drug abuse, Molly et al tend to tuck him into a safe corner somewhere before all hell breaks loose. Or he's off hacking while the combat cyborgs are going at it. Unfortunately, this means that we see almost nothing of the fights - Case is vaguely aware that a fight is going on, and then his side turns up injured but victorious. Even a key moment (the injury to Molly's leg) takes place off-stage.

    But if you like novels that explore deep philosophical concepts, particularly transhumanist ideas, Neuromancer is definitely worth a look. One of the major themes is the blurring of the line between man and machine: on one side, there are warriors undergoing (voluntary) cybernetic reconstruction to improve their combat abilities, while clone farms spit out dozens of legally identical duplicates of the wealthy. And on the other, you have mechanical entities, such as the AI "Wintermute" and the Dixie Flatline construct, which are virtually human . . . When the lines blur this much, just where does humanity end and technology begin?

    Oddly enough, though, Neuromancer is kind of PG-13. Many of the character have . . . interesting morals, but the author doesn't go into much detail. There is a sex scene, for example, but its not explicit. Really, the most potentially controversial aspect of the book is probably Case's drug abuse (which, thanks to Armitage, he can't actually indulge in).

    Series: Neuromancer is the first book in the Sprawl trilogy - up next is Count Zero. It also occurs after Gibson's short story, Johnny Mnemonic, who's aftermath sets up Molly's motivation in Neuromancer

    Recommended for: As one of the founding cyberpunk novels, Neuromancer should appeal to many fans of the genre. In particular, works like Shadowrun, Ghost in the Shell, and Armitage III draw heavily from Gibson's work.

    My Final Thoughts: I really liked Neuromancer. True, I'd have liked to see the combat scenes fleshed out better, but there's a lot of really good material. And I'm kind of surprised that there hasn't been a Neuromancer movie yet. Tell me the Panther Modern riot scene wouldn't look great on the big screen, or that Molly's fight with Hideo wouldn't be spectacular.
    Last edited by One Vorlon; 11-30-2014, 01:22 AM.
    "The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man."

    -William Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"

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